Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Device Reveals Invisible World Teeming with Microscopic Algae

07.10.2010
It just got easier to pinpoint biological hot spots in the world’s oceans where some inhabitants are smaller than, well, a pinpoint.

Microscopic algae are called phytoplankton and range from one to hundreds of microns in size – the smallest being 1/100th the size of a human hair. But as tiny as they may be, communities of the phytoplankton south of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, are big players when it comes to carbon: They take up 50 percent of the carbon dioxide going from the atmosphere into the oceans there.

“We thought that had to be a mistake at first,” says Francois Ribalet, a UW post-doctoral researcher in oceanography and lead author of a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper on the discovery published online in September.

“They are such small cells to do so much,” he says.

Phytoplankton, like plants on land, take up carbon from carbon dioxide during photosynthesis to build cells. Phytoplankton anchor the oceanic food web so where one finds a lot of phytoplankton, one usually finds a healthy collection of fish and animals. If not eaten, phytoplankton die and sink, carrying their carbon with them. Worldwide, ocean phytoplankton consume as much carbon dioxide as the Earth’s forests and land plants combined.

“Being able to readily detect and track blooms of these small-celled phytoplankton is critical for understanding their impact in the oceans and global carbon cycle,” Ribalet says.

SeaFlow, a device being developed at the UW, is making that task easier, he says. The instrument is a flow cytometer that measures the size and pigment composition of each single phytoplankton present in a sample at a rate of thousands of cells per second.

Typically biologists with traditional cytometers looked for phytoplankton using tablespoon-sized samples of water collected 10 to 50 miles or more from each other.

SeaFlow can sample seawater continuously making it possible to analyze samples every three minutes or two samples per mile traveled, says Jarred Swalwell, a research engineer with oceanography and lead developer. That’s because the instrument taps into the system found on board most oceanographic research vessels that supplies running seawater to shipboard labs for such things as keeping specimens alive.

In this way SeaFlow collects more samples in a day than most scientists gather on an entire cruise, Swalwell says. And SeaFlow sensors and banks of computers, not scientists with traditional cytometers and microscopes, sort the characteristics of phytoplankton communities to determine what’s present.

SeaFlow takes five minutes to do what used to take him two months, Ribalet says.

A prototype of the device revealed the biological hotspot off Vancouver Island and, for the first time, a marine ecotone, something oceanographers knew must exist but had no way to locate before now.

Ecotones are where different habitats overlap, where a prairie and forest meet, for example, or a river and estuary intersect. Ectones are rich with species because plants and animals from both ecosystems might be found there, as well as those adapted specifically to this hybrid environment. The ecotone discovered by Ribalet and colleagues is a 40-mile-wide region where ocean water rich with nitrates met coastal water rich with iron and where not just one, but five oceanic phytoplankton communities were detected taking full advantage of the carbon and nutrients concentrated there.

“This was just unexpected diversity,” Ribalet says. “It flies in the face of the textbooks.”

Ribalet and Swalwell imagine additional marine ecotones and biological hot spots could be detected if SeaFlows were installed on various ships and set up in a way to automatically alert scientists when phytoplankton abundance takes an interesting turn. Just such a SeaFlow set up has already been permanently mounted on the UW’s vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson.

Other co-authors on the paper from the UW are professor of oceanography Virginia Armbrust, research scientist Adrian Marchetti, doctoral research assistants Katherine Hubbard and Colleen Durkin, and research engineer Rhonda Morales; Kristina Brown and Philippe Tortell from University of British Columbia; and Marie Robert from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The work was funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Environmental Health and Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For more information:
Ribalet, 206-221-7258, ribalet@uw.edu
Website: http://armbrustlab.ocean.washington.edu/people/ribalet
Swalwell, 206-221-7258, jarred@uw.edu
Website: http://armbrustlab.ocean.washington.edu/node/226
SeaFlow homepage: http://seaflow.ocean.washington.edu/
YouTube: Census for the very small
http://armbrustlab.ocean.washington.edu/node/245
The colors red, orange and yellow indicate marine areas with abundant microscopic algae, some of which would have gone undiscovered using typical discrete sampling methods. The biological hotspot depicted in the North Pacific in this video, for instance, was between places the ship stopped to sample. It was revealed only because of new UW technology able to continuously sample and quickly analyze seawater while a ship is underway.

Video credit: Francois Ribalet

Sandra Hines | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bacteria as pacemaker for the intestine
22.11.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Researchers identify how bacterium survives in oxygen-poor environments
22.11.2017 | Columbia University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Corporate coworking as a driver of innovation

22.11.2017 | Business and Finance

PPPL scientists deliver new high-resolution diagnostic to national laser facility

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Quantum optics allows us to abandon expensive lasers in spectroscopy

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>